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Kopecky Reaches Another Pinnacle and Lays Claim to Being the World’s Best

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Who wins track world championships like Filippo Ganna, road race world championships like Mathieu van der Poel, leads out like Danny van Poppel and climbs like Wout van Aert? Here’s a clue: it’s not a rider of the male persuasion.

Easy, right? Of course, it’s Lotte Kopecky of SD Worx, who added to her reputation as the best all-around rider in the world when she won stage 3 of the recent UAE Tour by winning her first-ever mountain climb, the ascent to the summit of the tough Jebel Hafeet (10.8km @ 6.8%). She had already proved that she could climb in last year’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, when she finished a respectable sixth in the queen stage, which ended with an ascent of the formidable Tourmalet (17.2km @ 7.3%).

But winning a long, steep climb was always a challenge for the 28-year-old Belgian because, let’s face it, she does not have the ideal build of a natural climber, standing 1.7m and weighing in at 66kg. Climbers are generally built like two-time Tour winners Tadej Pogačar, who also weighs 66kg but is 6cm taller than Kopecky, and Jonas Vingegaard (only 60kg @ 1.75m). They both carry less weight per cm and are therefore able to generate more power with every pedal stroke.

Put another way, all things being equal, Kopecky carries more weight up the mountain. Her SD Worx teammate Demi Vollering, who won the climb up the Tourmalet last year, stands at 172m and weighs an estimated 58kg. So Kopecky will probably never beat her or others of similar build on the Tourmalet, but based on her performance on the Jebel Hafeet she will come closer this year and will be a worry for her rivals on other mountains.

In the UAE Tour, she also led out Lorena Wiebes in the first two stages to two sprint victories, enabling her teammate to dominate the points classification. And who finished second in the green jersey race? Yup, Kopecky. And let’s recall that she won last year’s TdFF Škoda Green Jersey, came in third in the last-stage ITT, behind teammates Marlen Reusser and Vollering, and finished second in the GC.

Lotte Kopecky
Kopecky in the Škoda Green Jersey she won at the 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. © Profimedia

Naturally, the reigning women’s road race world champion was delighted that she had reached another milestone in her career. “This is my first mountain victory ever. This is crazy,” Kopecky said after the stage. “I was very motivated. I felt the team had a lot of confidence in me and I had also studied the climb well in terms of the gradients. Of course I had hoped for this beforehand, but to live up to it… This is very good for [my] confidence.”

She explained that, in addition to strength and stamina, a difficult climb also requires constant self-awareness. “On a climb, you can feel good one minute and practically explode 30 seconds later,” she said. “That’s why I wasn’t thinking about the victory and just watched kilometer by kilometer how I felt.”

The UAE Tour win was her second World Tour stage-race win. Her first was in last year’s Simac Ladies Tour, in which she won the ITT, beating Vollering and Wiebes as well as the strong British duo of Zoe Bäckstedt (Canyon-SRAM Racing) and Anna Henderson (Visma–Lease a Bike). She began this year with a bang, winning two European Track Championships in January in 19 minutes(!).

Of course, she is targeting gold in this year’s Paris Olympics in both track and road racing – after she has added to her career a total of three Classics and two Monuments. Kopecky is optimistic about her chances. “The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are still far away,” she said, “but I do think I’m well on track given the training buildup I’ve had and the training sessions that are still to come.”